Tag Archives: pulp heroes

MONDO MIKE HAMMER MOVIES

i the jury novel 1947Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled private “detective” Mike Hammer first appeared in the writer’s debut novel I, The Jury in 1947. Spillane filled the Hammer stories with scandalous – for the time period – violence and sex. Critics frowned on the hundreds of millions in book sales that followed but readers continue to make the many Mike Hammer novels a success to this very day. 

The Mike Hammer movies, on the other hand, have always been a very mixed bunch of projects. The expression “from the ridiculous to the sublime” has never been more fitting than it is for those films, from the 1950s onward, from the U.S. to Japan. Here are some standouts, in no particular order.  

brian keith as mike hammerMICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER (1954) – This was a failed pilot for what would have been the first Mike Hammer television series. Brian Keith starred as the title dick (as it were) while Blake Edwards wrote and directed, years before his Peter Gunn series.

In my opinion, trying to do Mike Hammer on television was as bad an idea as Spillane’s own novels which set the P.I. in any decade later than the 1950s. This 1954 effort is an exception to my tv rule because it was deemed TOO VIOLENT FOR TELEVISION and was never aired!

Now that’s more like it! The raw violence and lurid sex of Spillane’s novels were what made Mike Hammer stand out. Anything less than Quentin Tarantino levels of sex and violence has been what doomed most Hammer productions on the big screen, let alone the small.

Spillane didn’t exactly concoct ground-breaking mysteries, so the adult elements were what fueled sales of his novels. Stripped of those elements, any story is just a pale imitation of Mike Hammer. As much as I like Darren McGavin, his 1958-1960 Mike Hammer series is way too tame and plays like any other bland detective series of the era. 

Brian Keith is great as the title character in this pilot and I’d love to see how he’d have done in a cinematic depiction of Spillane’s hero. Robert Bice is adequate in the thankless role of police captain Pat Chambers, but the absence of Hammer’s secretary Velda is a serious blow to the production.

Typical of so many Mike Hammer stories, there’s no client. The misanthrope is filled with personal rage and decides to take down a gangster when he sees the man’s gunsels kill a paper boy as collateral damage when they mow down a potential mob witness.

most terrible time in my lifeTHE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE (1993 in Japan, 1994 in the U.S.) – Masatoshi Nagase IS Maiku Hama, the Japanese rendering of the name Mike Hammer. This unusual film, directed and co-written by Kaizo Hayashi, is in black & white for all but the final 20 minutes. 

The Most Terrible Time in My Life starts out so slavishly derivative of Mickey Spillane, Film Noir and Seijun Suzuki that a viewer finds themselves wondering if this is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not. Hama comes to the aid of a Taiwanese waiter living in Yokohama, Japan. The waiter wants Maiku to find his missing brother, which investigation leads Hama to over the top violence, the Yakuza, gangster warfare and a secret vendetta between the Taiwanese brothers.

Our title detective gets a finger cut off and reattached at one point in the midst of the routine severe beatings that Mike Hammer usually suffers. Some of the beatings come from his old, revered detective sensei, Jo Shishido, the “cheeky” Japanese star of gritty crime cinema. (He’s sort of the Eddie Constantine of Japan, so his appearance as Hama’s mentor is an iconic moment.) Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY SIX

Balladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel in armorHELLSGARDE (1939) – Sadly, this is the last of C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry adventures, but the character gets to go out on a high note. The handsome but treacherous Guy of Garlot ambushes twenty of Jirel’s soldiers and imprisons them in the dungeons of Castle Garlot.

Guy demands ransom, so Jirel meets with him to negotiate since Castle Garlot is impregnable to assault and sieges as it sits atop a high, steep mountain with underground springs supplying it with endless water. The only payment Guy will accept to free Jirel’s men unharmed is the treasure from the remote and damned castle of Hellsgarde. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY FIVE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel picQUEST OF THE STAR STONE (1937) – It’s crossover time! C.L. Moore decided to do a story in which her two most famous pulp creations – Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry – meet each other. Trouble is Jirel’s adventures take place in Medieval times while Northwest Smith’s stories are set around 2500 A.D. Any reader of pulp fiction knows that’s no real obstacle so let’s dive in.

The story opens in Jirel’s time. She is leading her obedient soldiers in an assault on the castle of a sorceror named Franga. Our sword-wielding heroine battles her way through to Franga’s chamber where she seizes a mystic gem called the Star Stone. That jewel is so powerful but so unfathomable that even Franga was still trying to discover how to harness its arcane energies.

Jirel defeats Franga and forces him to flee between dimensions, but as he leaves he promises Jirel that he’ll return to get revenge on her and get the Star Stone back – just as soon as he finds a champion capable of matching Jirel’s courage, cunning and force of will. “No matter what world or what time I find them in” he adds, letting the reader know what’s coming up.  Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY FOUR

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel of joiry on horsebackTHE DARK LAND (1936) – In her tower bedroom at Castle Joiry, Jirel lies in bed, mortally wounded while leading her men at the Battlefield of Sorrow. A pike wound in her side has grown infected and the weak, delirious warrior woman is surrounded by her chambermaids, all of them weeping over their lady’s condition.

Father Gervase, whom we met back in the first Joiry story, arrives to cleanse Jirel of her sins as part of her Last Rites. He and the chambermaids are shocked to see that Jirel of Joiry’s body has disappeared from her death bed.

The priest and the maids are overcome with fear that the mistress of Castle Joiry may have been taken away body and soul by Satan. Father Gervase whispers his suspicion that Jirel had too often dabbled in forbidden things and defied too many unearthly powers during her lifetime and had finally paid the price. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY THREE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel meets magicJIREL MEETS MAGIC (1935) – First off, let me say that is a bizarrely bland and unfitting title for this wildly imaginative tale. It also ignores the supernatural elements of Jirel’s first two adventures by implying this is the first time she “meets” magic.

The story opens up with Jirel on horseback leading her army in a bloody assault on Castle Guischard, the stronghold of the sorcerer Giraud. When our heroine leads the way into the castle itself, even her bravest men are a bit intimidated by the dark history of the place, but charge in along with her.

jirel on hillWhen the last of Giraud’s men are slain and all secret passageways from Castle Guischard are covered, Jirel and her men scour the entire castle for any sign of the sorcerer, whom she has sworn to kill over his double-dealing with her.

At last, in a high tower of the castle, Jirel finds what must have been Giraud’s hiding place and sees how he apparently fled.

Behind plush curtains is a window with impossibly large ivory shutters. Once opened, those shutters reveal that the window leads not to the outside, but to another dimension in which Giraud has sought shelter.
Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY TWO

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

black god's shadowBLACK GOD’S SHADOW (1934) – This was Moore’s sequel to Jirel’s debut story Black God’s Kiss. We pick up an unknown amount of time after the conclusion of the previous tale. Jirel has been having recurring nightmares and visions ever since she killed Guillaume the Conqueror, the man she belatedly realized that she loved.

Of late the nightmares and visions have been intensifying to the point where our heroine is becoming convinced that Guillaume’s soul must be trapped in the hellish netherworld where she herself acquired the weapon she used to kill him. Castle Joiry was immediately evacuated by Guillaume’s troops in their panicked, superstitious reaction to the supernatural death of their leader.

jirel of joiryOrder had since been restored in the castle but Jirel’s sleep has not been the same. As she lies tossing and turning, she ponders the various lovers she had taken over the years, none of whom took the hold over her heart and thoughts that Guillaume did.

Determined, she armors up, takes a sword and knife with her and sets out to somehow free Guillaume’s soul by daring to reenter the hellish domain that lies far beneath Castle Joiry. Continue reading

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THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979): HALLOWEEN MONTH BEGINS

Silver John

Silver John

THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979) – Another Halloween Month begins here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at the first novel featuring Manly Wade Wellman’s iconic Pulp Hero Silver John. In 2011 I reviewed all of Wellman’s short stories and vignettes about this figure. The Old Gods Waken was the first of five Silver John novels.

For newcomers to these tales I’ll point out that Silver John aka John the Balladeer was a wandering guitar player in the Appalachian Mountain communities of yore. He would do battle with assorted supernatural menaces from mountain folklore like a combination of Kolchak and Orpheus. John’s silver guitar strings and silver coins were powerful repellants against much of the evils he faced down.

For more details on this neglected fictional hero click HERE or HERE or HERE. If you want an easy comparison the Silver John stories were based on the same type of mountain/ country folklore about music and the supernatural that the song The Devil Went Down To Georgia was based on.

silver john another coverThe Old Gods Waken deals with Silver John performing with other musicians at a music festival, then getting drawn into a property line dispute between the Forshay family and two sinister British men calling themselves Brummitt and Hooper Voth. As usual in our hero’s travels there are dark supernatural forces at work behind this boundary dispute – forces ultimately dealing with Pre-Columbian entities and transplanted Druidism.

I enjoy the Silver John short works far more than the novels and this book reflects plenty of reasons why. If The Old Gods Waken is a reader’s first exposure to the wandering balladeer then they might like it much better than I do based on the strength of the character and Manly Wade Wellman’s ear for old mountain dialects. As for me, I’ll explore the reasons why I think this novel embodies all the shortcomings of the (still very good) long form Silver John adventures.    Continue reading

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THE WINGED MAN (1913) AND BATSOWL (1918): BRITISH HEROES

winged manTHE WINGED MAN – From Great Britain’s renowned story papers came the Winged Man. British story papers, like Dime Novels and Pulp Magazines, were text stories peppered with a few illustrations. The Wonder, an Amalgamated Press publication, debuted in 1913 and among its offerings was the tragic tale of the Winged Man, whose first story was titled Twixt Midnight and Dawn (the hero’s favorite time to dispense vigilante justice).

This figure was an interesting blend of Platinum Age heroes like the Man in the Black Cloak and the later Phantom of the Opera, the villain who had made his first appearance in Gaston Leroux’s novel a few years earlier.

masc graveyard smallerThe mysterious Winged Man was “a strange genius” whose real name was never revealed. He possessed such inventive brilliance that he created a suit complete with working wings which allowed him to fly.

The Winged Man took to the skies to deal out justice to the modern world’s villains. He operated out of a mysterious underground lair on “the bleak Yorkshire coast.” There he was served by his dwarf butler Ghat. Continue reading

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JOKER: THE 1919 PULP HERO

jokerTHE JOKER – Time to examine another neglected Pulp Hero in the tradition of Balladeer’s Blog’s looks at the Moon Man, Silver John, the Nyctalope, G-8 & His Battle Aces and Northwest Smith. This time it’s the Joker, but not THAT one. Before the comic book villain and even before Conrad Veidt’s turn as Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1926), came the 1919 Pulp Magazine figure called the Joker.

NOTE: Sometimes people mistakenly think Pulp Magazines were the same as comic books, only earlier. However, the Pulps were TEXT STORIES, not sequential art like comic books. The Pulps did have colorful, striking covers like later comic books would have and sometimes a few illustrations in the stories but the Pulps were a much higher level of storytelling.

The 1919 Joker was created by Hugh Kahler, who the year before had created the White Rook, another hero/ villain of the Pulps. In some ways the Joker was a rehash of Kahler’s own White Rook crossed with Guy Boothby’s Simon Carne/ Klimo crime figure from 1897. Continue reading

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NICK CARTER IN PRAGUE (1978): MOVIE REVIEW

Nick Carter in PragueNICK CARTER IN PRAGUE (1978) – This film seems to like to hide from the millions of Nick Carter fans in the world by also going under titles like Adele Has Not Had Her Dinner or Dinner With Adele. I originally planned to review this movie last year but the passing of actor Robert Conrad prompted me to review his telefilm The Adventures of Nick Carter instead.

Created in 1886, Nick Carter was technically a private detective in New York City but really he was less of a sleuth and more of a forerunner of crime-fighting paragons like Doc Savage and Batman. Nick lasted through the end of the Dime Novel era and well into the age of Pulp Magazines, yet by the 1970s he was a much more popular character in Europe than in his homeland. Even before Nick Carter in Prague was released there had been a French-Italian animated series about Nick’s adventures.

This Czech film was directed by Oldrich Lipsky and starred Michal Docolomansky as Nick Carter. If you want a glib “pitch-meeting” style description of this movie think of it as a tongue-in-cheek effort like Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy but directed by Tim Burton and with a surreal, European arthouse feel.

Michal as Nick CarterThe approach is wry and knowing but without stooping to the overdone camp of 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely. Nick Carter in Prague is often labeled a comedy but don’t go into it expecting laughs, just lots of smiles like during Dick Tracy or Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s more “comedy” as in whimsical fantasy touches, not hard belly laughs.

The film is set around 1905 judging by the automobiles, and the opening minutes provide a nice introduction to Nick Carter. He’s a world-famous detective/ crime fighter whose exploits earn him plenty of headlines. Police departments and Secret Services around the world bombard him with requests for help and he survives multiple attempts on his life by a variety of enemies as part of his daily routine at his office.

Nick has so many pleas for his services that he selects who he’ll help next at random. The “winner” is Countess Thun (Kveta Fiolova) of Prague, so our hero is off to then-Czechoslovakia. The countess has a lot of pull with her government and Carter is given a hero’s welcome. The tubby Commissar Ledvina (Rudolf Hrusinsky) is assigned to help Nick in every way. Continue reading

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